Morristown man suspected of scouting landmarks for terror attacks gets 12-year sentence

Alex Saab. Photo: LinkedIn


A Morristown man who prosecutors say scouted dozens of U.S. landmarks as possible terror targets for Hezbollah was sentenced this week to a dozen years in federal prison.

Alexei Saab, 46, then will face three years of supervised release. Arrested in 2019, the software engineer was convicted last year of receiving military-type training from the Lebanon-based Hezbollah Islamic Jihad Organization, conspiring to commit marriage fraud and making false statements.

Prosecutors said Saab–also known as Alex Saab, Ali Hassan Saab and Rachid– was recruited by Hezbollah as a college student in Lebanon in 1996, and was trained to use assault weapons and make explosives.

Saab tracked movements of Israeli soldiers in Lebanon, attempted to kill a man he later suspected as an Israeli spy — Saab’s handgun misfired twice at point-blank range–and helped plant a bomb that wounded an Israeli soldier, according to authorities. He also allegedly cased possible targets in Turkey, France and the Czech Republic.

He came to the United States in 2000 and became a naturalized citizen in 2008.

In between, prosecutors said, he acted as a sleeper cell for Hezbollah, scouting potential targets such as Newark Liberty International Airport, the Empire State Building, Wall Street, New York bridges and tunnels, Boston’s Prudential Center and Fenway Park, and the White House and Capitol in Washington.

To avoid suspicion, Saab sometimes posed people in his photographs, like a tourist, prosecutors alleged.

Investigators obtained some of these images after searching his residence “in the vicinity of Morristown, New Jersey” in 2019. Online, Saab posted his occupation as a director of information technology for Covanta.

Saab’s reports to the Islamic Jihad Organization described “the materials used to construct a particular target, how close in proximity one could get to a target, and site weaknesses or ‘soft spots’ that the IJO could exploit if it attacked a target in the future,” according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

He even allegedly surveilled the Manhattan courthouse that turned out to be where he stood trial for two weeks in May 2022. He was sentenced there on Tuesday by U.S. District Judge Paul G. Gardephe.

Prosecutors said Saab accepted $20,000 to marry a French woman, solely so she could obtain U.S. citizenship, in violation of immigration laws.

Saab was not convicted of providing material support to a terrorist group, or of three other counts.

The Justice Department sought a 20-year jail term. But the judge noted Saab lived peacefully and productively after breaking with Hezbollah in 2005,  cooperated with the FBI investigation, and has been a model prisoner since his arrest, reported the Associated Press.

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